Dictionary of Welsh Biography

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

ROWLAND(S) , JOHN ( Giraldus ; 1824 - 1891 ), antiquary , a native of Llandybïe, Carms.

Reliable information about his life is very scanty. He was placed in charge of the new National school at Llandybie , opened c. 1849 ( Gomer M. Roberts , Hanes Plwy Llandybïe , 127). When he left that school has not yet been discovered, but c. 1864 he became one of the long line of transcribers employed by Sir Thomas Phillipps — his description of himself as ‘ librarian ’ is rather an over-statement; see his reminiscences of Phillipps , in Yr Haul , 1873 , 368-70. During the late spring and the summer of 1865 he tramped around south and west Wales , copying memorial-tablets in the churches on Phillipps 's behalf — both were irascible men, and while Phillipps complained of Rowland 's inaccuracy, Rowland inveighed against his remuneration, which indeed was very skimpy. The transcripts were published in 1865 at Cheltenham , as Carmarthenshire Monumental Inscriptions and Glamorganshire Monuments . On 4 Sept. 1865 Rowland gave his employer notice, and went to live at Carmarthen (maybe as a schoolteacher ); on the death of Brutus in 1866 he became assistant to William Spurrell in the editorship of Yr Haul ( T. M. Jones , Llenyddiaeth fy Ngwlad , 91), to which he contributed historical and antiquarian articles for many years, under the pen-name ‘ Giraldus ’; in 1866 , too, he published (at Cardiff ) Historical Notes on. … Glamorgan, Carmarthen, and Cardigan, by John Rowlands, late Librarian (etc.). When exactly he left Carmarthen is not clear; the article upon him by Edward Thomas ( Cochfarf ) in Y Geninen ( March 1908 , 57) speaks of his having ‘just come’ to ‘ Rhymni ’ as schoolmaster when Thomas first saw him, in 1879 . Here again there is ambiguity, between the mining village ‘ Rhymney ’ at the top end of the Rhymney valley , and the village of ‘ Rumney ,’ then just outside Cardiff (and now part of it). The book on Rhymney by J. S. Jones ( Hanes Rhymni a Phontlottyn , 40) implies the former, while Cochfarf , who himself lived at Cardiff , unmistakably refers to the latter; he may indeed have served at both places in succession. However, during the winter of 1883-4 Rowland was paralyzed , and sank into destitution. An appeal headed by leading clergymen in Glamorgan resulted in the collection of a substantial fund, part of which was employed in the purchase of a house for him and his wife at Cardiff ; further, T. Marchant Williams succeeded in persuading the government to grant Rowland a teacher 's pension, though his length of service in schools did not strictly qualify for it. He d. 4 July 1891 , ‘aged 67,’ and was buried in Rumney ( Cardiff ) churchyard on 8 July . Besides the books named above, he published The Pedigree of the Ancient Family of Dolau Cothi ( Carmarthen , 1877 ) and Welsh Royalists ( Cardiff , 1881 ).


  • Information from Mr. A. N. L. Munby , Fellow and Librarian of King's College, Cambridge, and author of Phillipps Studies , and from the vicar of Rumney (Cardiff).


Emeritus Professor Robert Thomas Jenkins, C.B.E., D.Litt., Ll.D., F.S.A., (1881-1969), Bangor

Corrections and additions:

ROWLAND(S) , JOHN (‘ Giraldus ’.

By his own testimony, he was b. at Nanteos Arms , Llanbadarn Fawr, Cards. He was baptized in the parish church, 20 Mar. 1824 , by William Herbert , curate , as the s. of Lewis Rowland , Tynewydd , and Anne his wife, daughter of John Griffiths , steward of Nanteos estate . His grandfather, Thomas Rowland , Ffynnon-wen , was a well-known huntsman and on friendly terms with the Pryse family of Gogerddan . His father d. when John was only 4 years old, and he was then brought up by his grandmother at Ffynnon-wen . He worked as a shepherd during the summer months, receiving some education during the winter in a school held by Isaac Jenkins at Caeau Bach on the Hafodau estate . He left Ffynnon-wen after his grandmother's d. and went to his grandfather John Griffiths , thereby becoming friendly with the Powell family of Nanteos . His mother re-married. Her second husband, David James of Llanddewibrefi , was a carpenter and builder . The family later moved to Pontlotyn . David James 's family were staunch Anglicans in Cardiganshire and Glamorganshire . The boy was for 3 years apprenticed as a carpenter by his step-father. By this time he had taken to reading and at the age of 15 he was a local reporter for the Carmarthen Journal , being dubbed Brutus bach since his style resembled that of David Owen , ‘ Brutus ’ . In 1848 he entered the new teachers’ training college at Carmarthen , where he came to the notice of Harry Longueville Jones . His first school was at Llangynnwr , in 1850 . He moved to Llandybïe in 1851 , and thence to Llanelli and Dinas Powys . Towards the end of 1864 he became Welsh secretary to Sir Thomas Phillipps at Cheltenham , for whom he had been copying monumental inscriptions in Wales since Aug. 1863 . Giraldus described himself as Welsh librarian to Sir Thomas Phillipps , and there is no doubt that he did assist in this splendid library, but on 4 Sept. 1865 he left Thirlestaine House . Phillipps complained of his inaccuracy; Rowland of low pay. In an article in Yr Haul , Oct. 1873 , Rowland offers his side of the story of his service in the employ of the eccentric bookworm . To scrape a meagre living from his pay he would have to transcribe very rapidly in view of the low rates offered him. Other than that he turned to journalism , his subsequent movements are unclear. According to an article on him by one ‘ Gwyn o Went ’ in Yr Haul , 1881 , 201-3, based, apparently, on information supplied by Rowland himself, he secured a post in the library of Llandaff House (the property of Colonel Bennett , better known as Major Richards ) which was sold by Sotheby's , 20 and 21 Apr. 1871 ( Cardiff Times ). According to John Davies ( 1860 - 1939 a catalogue by Rowland of the contents of this library was published in 1864 . There is no known copy of this catalogue nor of the first catalogue of Cardiff Public Library which Davies says he made during the same period. He may have gone to Carmarthen as a schoolmaster . In any case, on the d. of Brutus in Jan. 1866 he became assistant editor of Yr Haul . There is evidence that he turned yet again to teaching , this time at an endowed school in Bedwas . He left to join Hugh Williams (‘ Cadfan ’ to begin publication of Y Dywysogaeth in 1870 , and moved to Carmarthen to devote his time entirely to the Church press. His Historical Notes on … Glamorgan, Carmarthen, and Cardigan, by John Rowlands, late librarian ( 1866 ) was published in Cardiff , and it may be surmised that he lived in the neighbourhood of Cardiff at the time. It is not known when he left Carmarthen . A short note in Y Llan , 10 July 1891 , testifies that he had been ‘a faithful and interesting reporter for Y Llan and other Welsh Church papers for many years. He was cheerful and very contented, and a zealous churchman ’.


  • NLW MS 8705;
  • A. N. L. Munby , Phillipps Studies No. IV ;
  • for an extensive list of his booklets and articles see Glyn Lewis Jones , A Bibliography of Cardiganshire… 1964-1968 Supplement , Aberystwyth, 1970 , iii, 809-12.


Evan David Jones, F.S.A., (1903-87), Aberystwyth

Published date: 1959